One way to cut through the noise of chart music is to go past the face of it. As a recovering snob, it helps me to know where the music actually came from; digging through songwriting credits I started to notice the same names coming up: the hitmakers, producers, songwriters behind dozens of hits. Imitated by lesser teams, they defined the sound of their decade. This way of looking at pop makes even the AOR and mawk interesting.

(The following ignores performer-writer auteurs. The century would have been hollow without them.)

Estimating the number of "artists"

11 million on Spotify, but only 200,000 pro or semi-pro artists (defined as having >10,000 monthly listeners).

(Spotify still isn't most of music but it's a good place to start. Spotify's stats site.)

Most of these write their own stuff, but not in the sales charts.

The gentleman's agreement

The star often gets a writing credit now, because authenticity is in. It is extremely unclear in any particular case how much they actually did.

Fats & Barthomolew

Sam Phillips (Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison)

Willie Dixon (Chess and the modern blues; Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley)

Leiber and Stoller (Elvis, Etta James, Drifters, Peggy Lee)

Joe Meek (Tornados, Tom Jones, Gene Vincent, Billy Fury, Shirley Bassey)

Mann and Weill (Drifters, Dusty, Animals)

Bert Berns (Brill / Atlantic)

HDH (Motown)

Phil Spector (Ronettes, Tina, Beatles)

Goffin and King

Quincy Jones (Aretha, Benson, Jackson)

Jimmy Webb (Glen Campbell, Richard Harris, Garfunkel)

Arif Mardin


Chinnichap (pop rock, glam, new wave)

Rick Nowels

Rick Rubin (old school hip hop, thrash metal, Cash)

Steve Albini (grunge, pop-punk, alternative)

Trevor Horn (new wave, synthpop, New Pop)

Billy Steinberg (Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Pretenders, Bangles)

Jimmy Iovine

Dianne Warren

Butch Vig



Max Martin (Britney, Backstreet, Katy, Swift, Clarkson, Weeknd)

Adam Schlesinger


Steve Robson

Xenomania (Girls Aloud, Sugababes, Annie)

Mike Dean (Kanye, Travis Scott, Lil Uzi)

Mark Ronson

SOPHIE (Charli XCX, Madonna, Kim Petras, MØ, all hyperpop indirectly)

Wayne Hector

Ricky Reed

Julia Michaels (Bieber)


Amy Wadge (Sheeran)

Kid Harpoon (Styles, Mendes, Miley)


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Tags: music, lists


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